The Dragon Republic by R F Kuang (The Poppy War #2)

The mindset that any one person is fundamentally inferior to another is infuriating. The sheer arrogance of such a notion is one of the most abhorrent qualities a human can possess. Whether it’s due to a slightly different shade of skin pigmentation, or a preference of which obscure mythical book passage to follow, or which side of an imaginary line you were conceived on, wars have been started over it all by the small-minded and ignorant. Many of these horrific themes are present in R. F. Kuang’s The Dragon Republic, in which Rin’s humanity is called into question due to her ethnicity and religious beliefs. It is a powerful, yet depressingly familiar tale that is not to be missed.

“But I’ve seen how power works… It’s not about who you are, it’s about how they see you. And once you’re mud in this country, you’re always mud.”

When we last left Rin, she was reeling from the consequences of her actions that ended the Third Poppy War. After learning that a person of power sold her country out, she has made it her mission to lead her Cike team into removing this figurehead and taking vengeance on those responsible for the millions of Nikaran deaths. The Dragon Republic begins three months after the Third Poppy War has ended, and Rin and her team of gifted Cike companions are running assassination missions for a pirate smuggler. As payment, Rin would receive enough ships and supplies to make a run at their target. The situation doesn’t play out like it should, and now Rin finds herself conscripted to a new ally with dreams of turning Nikara into a democratic republic. Not a true democratic republic, of course – the only vote that the people get to decide is whether to join their new governors or die. (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…”) With allegiances constantly being tested and betrayals around every corner, Rin faces her greatest challenges yet in securing safety for herself and her people.

With much of the world-building and mythology already in place, The Dragon Republic wastes no time in providing a laser-focused story that lasts the entirety of the book. It’s tough not to compare this sequel to the original, but I will say that the uneven tonal shifts of the first book have been rectified. This is a grim world, and its effects on Rin are ever-present. Remorse for her actions is non-existent, and she relies on anger to drown out any wandering thoughts. Her identity is entirely wrapped up in being a soldier. She does not know what to do with her life if she didn’t have a war to fight, so she clings on to the nearest rebellious cause without knowing the full history behind it. Her war is personal, not political; she’s driven by her thirst for revenge instead of considering the greater needs of those around her. Rin’s journey is one of self-discovery and purpose, and it is fascinating to witness.

“In the heat of battle, human life could be reduced to the barest mechanics of existence—arms and legs, mobility and vulnerability, vital points to be identified, isolated, and destroyed.”

This is a story of self-worth and determination, of finding value in life when your strengths are stripped away. It shines a light on some of the worst aspects of humanity which are sadly still reflective of our current society. It is a story of tragedy and loss, of anger and hypocrisy, of perseverance and triumph. Kuang excels at wreaking emotional havoc while delivering a powerful meditation on war and survival. It is a compelling follow-up to a landmark debut, so make sure you visit The Dragon Republic.

9/10 Kuang excels at wreaking emotional havoc while delivering a powerful meditation on war and survival.

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